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Milwaukee M18 Cordless Compact Drill Driver
Power, toughness and versatility packed in smaller and smaller packages
Text, photos and video by Tom Hintz
Posted - 4-9-2010
Milwaukee Electric Tool Corporation could never be considered a stranger to long-lived, worksite-tough power tools. Their new Milwaukee M18 Cordless Compact Drill Driver fits their reputation and the needs of woodworkers very well. Finding this tool to be well made, surprisingly powerful and loaded with legitimately useable features is no big surprise.
The overall size of this tool and its battery packs are both surprising. The Milwaukee M18 Cordless Compact Drill Driver weighs in at a decidedly non arm straining 4.9-lbs with the 18V Lithium-Ion battery installed. Considering the power of this drill-driver and the power contained in the battery pack, that weight is remarkable on two counts. The overall length of the Milwaukee M18 Cordless Compact Drill Driver is just 7-3/4" so getting it into small areas is easy.
The Milwaukee M18 Cordless Compact Drill Driver kit reviewed here comes with two 18V-battery packs, a quick charger, blow-molded carry case and instruction booklets.
The Milwaukee M18 Cordless Compact Drill Driver is surprisingly small and that translates to comfort in the hand. Milwaukee's knack for engineering more and more power into ever-shrinking packages makes this possible. That reduced and well balanced mass makes using the Milwaukee M18 Cordless Compact Drill Driver easier and decidedly less tiring.
The metal gear case generates two speed ranges, selectable through a top-mounted slider switch. Choose between position #1, 0-350 RPM or position #2, 0-1400 RPM ranges. The lower range has lots of torque for drilling large holes or driving big screws. The second range is much faster for drilling with smaller-diameter bits in harder woods or steel. To make the Milwaukee M18 Cordless Compact Drill Driver even more versatile the motor cranks out a very stout 400 in-lbs (max) of torque. If that level of power won't drive your fasteners you need an impact gun.
The grip area is ergonomically designed to fit real, live hands. The shape is easy to grip without clenching and the rubber overmolds give you a good sense of control. The rubber material is tough but soft enough to absorb vibrations generated when drilling or driving fasteners.
A cross-slide button just above the handle controls forward and reverse. Put this switch in the center detent and the trigger is locked, preventing the driver from running during transport.
The trigger is a true variable speed switch. The trigger has plenty of travel to make controlling the motor RPM very easy in either speed range. Also the trigger is placed nicely so that it is easy to reach and operate without having to move your hand on the grip.
Just above the trigger is an LED work light that comes on before the motor starts. Positioned to illuminate the work area this light makes drilling or driving fasteners inside projects much easier. Because it is an LED light, the draw on the battery is negligible.
The Milwaukee M18 Cordless Compact Drill Driver comes with a keyless, 1/2"-capacity, ratcheting chuck. The outer surface of the chuck has a contoured plastic cover that makes gripping it easy when installing or removing bits.
Milwaukee also added a 23-position clutch, operated with a ring with easy-to-read markings. The final position locks the chuck to prevent slipping during drilling operations. A chart in the instruction manual shows approximate torques each setting applies along with suggestions for common screw sizes those torque settings may be capable of driving. Naturally because wood is a dramatically inconsistent material, check all settings on a scrap of wood first!
Batteries & Charger
The Milwaukee M18 Cordless Compact Drill Driver kit comes with two 18V Lithium-Ion battery packs that are surprisingly small for their voltage. The batteries literally plug onto the drill/driver using a keyed connection that only fits one way to prevent crossing it up and damaging the battery or motor. The M18 batteries have a push-button "fuel gauge" on the front that gives you a quick indication of the amount of charge remaining.
Also included is an intelligent charger that refreshes the packs in about 30 to 60-minutes. The actual condition of the pack determines the precise recharge time. The 110V charger has a pair of lights that tell you what it is doing. A legend next to the lights explains the flashing or color being shown.
In the Shop
Getting into the shop and actually using the Milwaukee M18 Cordless Compact Drill Driver proved my feelings about the grip, size and weight of this tool were right. It is very comfortable to the hand and the balance makes it easy to use. You don't get the feeling that it wants to tip which lets your hand relax and focus on putting the bit where you want it. That grip also makes controlling the stout power within the Milwaukee M18 Cordless Compact Drill Driver easier.
The controls are laid out naturally and operate logically so all are easy to reach and use. The variable speed trigger is easy to use because it is consistent and has plenty of throw so you can find and hold a comfortable RPM for the jog at hand.
The keyless chuck was a landmark development in hand drills and it is great to see that becoming standard fare in this segment of the tool world. The Milwaukee version of the keyless chuck works very easily and holds tight without having to strain to tighten it. Nice touch, well made and makes the Milwaukee M18 Cordless Compact Drill Driver that much easier to use.
The clutch on the Milwaukee M18 Cordless Compact Drill Driver is effective and seems to repeat very well. I drove a wide range of screw sizes and it was easy to find the right torque setting for each of them. After using the Milwaukee M18 Cordless Compact Drill Driver for a while the familiarity makes guessing at the necessary chuck adjustment for the job simple because it repeats so well.
Milwaukee was one of the first to bring Lithium-Ion batteries to market and their battery technology remains impressive. The 18V packs supplied with the Milwaukee M18 Cordless Compact Drill Driver kit last surprisingly long between charges. Add that to the fast turnaround on the included charger and running out of battery power on a job is not likely. These batteries also show very little loss of power as the charge runs down. In most cases I did not notice a reduction in torque until the pack was ready for recharge. This quick fall-off at the end of the charge makes the push-button "fuel gauge" a good thing to get used to.
The Milwaukee M18 Cordless Compact Drill Driver is a very well built tool that handles woodworking tasks very well. It has plenty of power and dependable ways to control the above average amount of torque when dealing with small fasteners.
With a street price of just $179.99 (4-7-2010) the Milwaukee M18 Cordless Compact Drill Driver kit is also a very good value. Combine that price with the typical longevity of Milwaukee tools and the Milwaukee M18 Cordless Compact Drill Driver becomes even more cost effective.
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